Saturday, January 19, 2008

He is the Very Model of A Modern Father General

Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, 71, moderator of the Jesuit provinces of East Asia and Oceania, has just been elected the 30th Superior General of the Society of Jesus! Originally from Spain, and a theologian by training, Father Nicolas was ordained in Tokyo and has spent much of his life working in Japan. The Australian Jesuit newsletter, The Province Express, recently did a couple interviews with him about his work and the upcoming congregation. I'm pasting those below, as well as a whole bunch of news stories on him and the election.

It's an exciting time for the Society; I hope you'll join us in praying for Fr. Nicolas and the work of the general congregation (which will now look at a number of issues raised by the world Society over the last year).

(The pictures are all from Fr. Don Doll, SJ, photos of the congregation, which can be found along with many other great shots at

A letter from Rome, immediately after the Congregation, announcing Fr. Nicolas as the next General
We have left the election hall a few minutes ago. I am glad to announce that we have a new Superior General of the Society of Jesus. There is immense joy as the members of the Congregation approach the new General to greet and embrace him. Adolfo Nicolas SJ is a man from Asia, a theologian from Japan, but born in Palencia Spain in 1936. He represents a new generation of Spanish missionaries in Japan after Fr. Arrupe.

He joined the Society of Jesus in the novitiate of Aranjuez, a small village close to Madrid, in 1953. After completing his studies of Philosophy in Alcalá, Madrid, in 1960 he goes to Japan to immerse himself in Japanese language and culture. In 1964 commences his Theological studies at Sophia University, Tokyo and is ordained priest on the 17th March 1967 in Tokyo.

After obtaining a Masters degree in Theology at the Gregorian Universality, Rome, he returns to Japan to become a professor of systematic theology at Sophia University. From 1978 to 1984 he becomes the director of the Pastoral Institute at Manila, Philippines and then Rector of the house for young Asian Jesuit students of Theology. From 1993 to 1999 he becomes Provincial of the Jesuit Province of Japan.

After this stint in 'power' he spends three years working in a poor immigrant parish in Tokyo. His work is difficult but he is able to help thousands of Philippine and Asian immigrants and gets a first-hand experience of their suffering. In a way, his love for the poor and downtrodden can become now, after so many years, his most important ministry.

In 2004 is called again to exercise governing functions, and is appointed responsible for the entire Jesuit region of East Asia comprising countries from Myanmar to Timor Este including the new province of China. It is during these years that he is able to support the phenomenal growth of the Jesuit presence in Vietnam and other countries.

Somebody might say that after celebrating the centenary of Fr. Arrupe, the Society has elected a General very much in his own line. It is as if the Society would like to re-affirm once more its missionary character and its commitment to all peoples and cultures.

Congratulations Fr. Adolfo!!

Fr. Fernando Franco SJ
Father Nicolas is Greeted by Father Kolvenbach

Interview with Australian Province Express
Australian Express
Father Adolfo Nicolás
A conversation is an exchange. It leaves neither participant unchanged. This is something that Jesuits and other Christians working in Asia have found for centuries.

It’s been 46 years since Father Adolfo Nicolás first traveled to Japan as a missionary from Spain. His has been a long conversation, first in Japan, but also in Korea and more recently in the Philippines. It’s left him convinced that the West does not have a monopoly on meaning and spirituality, and can learn a lot from the experience of Asian cultures.

‘Asia has a lot yet to offer to the Church, to the whole Church, but we haven’t done it yet’, he says. ‘Maybe we have not been courageous enough, or we haven’t taken the risks that we should.’

It speaks volumes that when Father Nicolás talks about Asia, he uses the term ‘we’. As President of the Jesuit Conference of South East Asia and Oceania, he’s responsible for bringing Jesuits across the region together to think beyond their own countries, and confront challenges facing the globe.

The group he represents stretches from China and Myanmar in the west, to Korea in the north, Australia in the south, and Micronesia in the east. It brings together an incredibly diverse group of cultures and societies. From countries where Christianity has been strong in the past, but is on the wane, to places where Christians make up a small but vibrant minority.

Asked if people from a culture like Japan experience Ignatian Spirituality differently than those in the West, Father Nicolás says the experience was indeed different, but it had yet to be formulated.

‘I think the real experience of the Japanese is different. And it should be different. But the formulation continues to be very much a Western formulation’, he says.

A Japanese Jesuit, Father Katoaki, has recently translated and added comments on the book of the Exercises from a Japanese-Buddhist perspective. Father Adolfo says there has also been some discussion on whether the Exercises could be presented to non-Christians, and how that might occur.

‘The question is how to give the Ignatian experience to a Buddhist’, he says. ‘Not maybe formulated in Christian terms, which is what Ignatius asked, but to go to the core of the experience. What happens to a person that goes through a number of exercises that really turn a person inside-out. This is still for us a big challenge.’

While some work has been done comparing the Ignatian experience with that of Hindus, he says there hasn’t been a lot of work on finding similarities say in Japanese, Chinese or Korean cultures. He says East Asia has been more slow to do this in India, partly because the East Asians have a strong respect for tradition, and hence a respect for Christianity’s European traditions. However, the region’s remoteness also gives it more freedom to be creative.

‘There is more space for experimenting, for trying, for thinking and exchanging’, he says.

Essentially, he says the Exercises are about letting God guide people. This is something that those directing retreats have been wary of in the past, but something that is important when dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds.

‘The fact is, if God is guiding then the Japanese will be guided the Japanese way. And the same with the Chinese, and with people from other religions’, he says.

‘Then the director simply has to be perceptive, to see signs that here God is saying something that I don’t understand, and be humble enough to say continue as long as you keep sane and balanced etc.’

Others throughout Asia are dealing more directly with questions of cultural difference, working as missionaries in countries like Cambodia and Myanmar. Father Nicolás says he’s wary of missionaries who don’t enter into the lives of the people, but keep the patterns of their home cultures – Europe or Latin America - alive in their mind. For them, it’s not about exchange but about teaching and imposing orthodoxy.

‘Those who enter into the lives of the people, they begin to question their own positions very radically’, he says. ‘Because they see genuine humanity in the simple people, and yet they see that this genuine humanity is finding a depth of simplicity, of honesty, of goodness that does not come from our sources.’

That conversation must continue, if we are to learn from Asia and Asia is to learn from us.

‘That is a tremendous challenge, and I think it’s a challenge that we have to face. We don’t have a monopoly, and we have a lot to learn.’

By Michael McVeigh

Father Nicolas is Applauded by the Congregation

Second Interview with Australian Province Express, on the work of the General Congregation
Fr Adolfo Nicolas SJ: Six hopes for the General Congregation

Can we be realistic?

I can still remember GC34. They are fond, humorous and challenging memories. But we were not realistic.

Just imagine: 220 Jesuits decide to tackle 46 topics, work on them for three months, produce 26 documents and solemnly handle and approve 416 complementary norms. Thus, we were not surprised when crises emerged: crises of content, of management, and of hope. Next year we will be close to 230 members.

It is my ardent hope that we be realistic as to what a GC can do decently well, what it cannot, and what it should leave to the new Father-General and his team.

Can we be transparent?

Transparency has become more difficult in our small world. When was the last time that a great leader could confess substantial sins in public and continue leading the flock, the country, the Church?

And yet, our GCs have always started with an honest and frank acknowledgment of where we are going wrong, what is missing in our lives, what has been distorted or wounded of our spirit, what needs conversion, renewal or radical reform.

It is my sincere hope that we can do that again.

Can we be accompanied?

The best of a General Congregation is the event itself, as an ‘event of the heart'. This is a time of intensive search and of exhilarating exchange, where questions and answers do not come lineally, but dance within us and around us, at the rhythm of fraternal and humble mutual openness.

My hope is that this happens to the whole Society of Jesus. I hope that we all take an active part in preparing the Congregation from inside our common issues. Prayer, reflection and exchange are the gift and the contribution.

I hope that those who do not go to Rome, will monitor and follow events closely, with the same hope, the same intensity of search, the same willingness to change and be led by the Spirit of our Lord. This will be our best accompaniment.

Can we be creative?

I have a feeling, still imprecise and difficult to define, that there is something important in our religious life that needs attention and is not getting it. We have certainly been diligent in addressing our problems whenever we have seen them: Poverty (GC32 in 1974 and 34 in 1995), Chastity (GC34), Community (Provincials at Loyola)... But the uneasiness in the Society and in the Church has not disappeared.

The question for us is: Is it enough that we are happy with our life and are improving our service and ministry? Isn't there also an important factor in the perception of people (Vox Populi) that should drive us to some deeper reflection on religious life today? How come we elicit so much admiration and so little following?

Thus, one of my hopes is that in GC35 we begin a process of dynamic and open reflection on our religious life that might begin a process of re-creation of the Society for our times, not only in the quality of our services, but also and mostly in the quality of our personal and community witness to the Church and the World.

Can we be practical?

The age in which we live and our younger Jesuits will live, is an age of very rapid change. New technologies and new communication possibilities can make a great difference. We are using some. We do not feel free to use others. Maybe a certain restraint in using new means might be good for us. Maybe not. It is so difficult to know what is going to happen seven, ten years from now.

It is my hope that the coming GC opens the way for future General Congregations, giving the new General and his Council the freedom to discern and choose the best means to prepare and to run the Congregations of the future.

Can we be short?

We would not like GC35 to become another exercise in patience. A General Congregation is not a "Panacea" for all the problems we might face. It is a help of great value, but basically oriented to the ongoing growth in the Spirit and the Apostolate of the whole Society.

Thus, my final hope is that we will be so clear as to the purposes, and so focused in our work, that we can do this service to the Society and the Church within a reasonably short time.

By Adolfo Nicolas SJ, Moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania.

Father Nicolas, After His Election

Article on the Election from Catholic News Service
Jesuit working in Asia elected new head of order
By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- Spanish-born Father Adolfo Nicolas, moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania, was elected superior general of the Society of Jesus Jan. 19.

The 217 voting delegates to the Jesuit General Congregation elected Father Nicolas, 71, on their second ballot. He succeeds Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, 79, who had asked to resign because of his age.

Pope Benedict XVI was informed of the election of Father Nicolas before the Jesuits announced it publicly.

The election came after four days of prayer, silence and quiet one-on-one conversations among the voting delegates, who were chosen to represent the more than 19,000 Jesuits around the world.

Father Nicolas was ordained to the priesthood in Tokyo and is the former Jesuit provincial of Japan. He also had served as director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila.

Interviewed in December about his hopes for the work of the General Congregation, Father Nicolas said, "I have a feeling, still imprecise and difficult to define, that there is something important in our religious life that needs attention and is not getting it.

"We have certainly been diligent in addressing our problems whenever we have seen them," he said, noting the focus of past General Congregations, "but the uneasiness in the society and in the church has not disappeared."

In the interview, with the Province Express, the newsletter of the Australian Jesuits, he said, "The question for us is: Is it enough that we are happy with our life and are improving our service and ministry? Isn't there also an important factor in the perception of people ('vox populi') that should drive us to some deeper reflection on religious life today?

"How come we elicit so much admiration and so little following?" he asked.

He concluded by telling the newsletter that he hoped the General Congregation would begin "a process of dynamic and open reflection on our religious life that might begin a process of re-creation of the society for our times, not only in the quality of our services, but also and mostly in the quality of our personal and community witness to the church and the world."

Jesuit Father Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference of the United States, told Catholic News Service that Father Nicolas "is a great man. He is inspirational, he is holy and he represents a great bridge among the various cultures in the church."

Father Smolich said he had gotten to know the new general as they both served on the commission preparing for the General Congregation. Although Father Nicolas is 71, "he has the energy of a much younger man."

In a Jan. 10 letter to the Jesuits, Pope Benedict asked them to reaffirm their "total adhesion to Catholic doctrine," particularly regarding interreligious dialogue and various aspects of sexual morality.

Father Smolich said, "I do not think there was a cause-and-effect relationship, but we have chosen one of the premiere men in the society" in the field of relations between Christianity and other religions.

"He can work intimately with the pope and the Vatican on this very issue," the Jesuit said.

"Seriously, he is one of the most intelligent and holiest men I have ever met," Father Smolich said. "He has the breadth and depth to handle these issues."

The resignation of Father Kolvenbach and the election of Father Nicolas was just the beginning of the General Congregation's work; as of Jan. 19, the Jesuits had not announced an end date for the meeting, but it was expected to last at least another month and focus on questions of Jesuit identity and governance, vocations, mission and collaboration with the laity.

Born April 29, 1936, in Palencia, Spain, Father Nicolas entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1953. After earning a degree in philosophy in Spain, he was sent to Japan to study theology. He was ordained a priest in Tokyo in 1967.

After earning a master's degree in theology from the Jesuit-run Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he returned to Japan and taught systematic theology at Sophia University in Tokyo.

In 1978-84 he was director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila. In 1991-1993 he was rector of the program for Jesuit scholastics in Japan, and in 1993 he was appointed provincial for Japan.

Before being named moderator of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania in 2004, he spent three years working in a poor immigrant parish in Tokyo, living with and ministering to Filipino and other Asian immigrants.

Father Nicolas speaks Spanish, Japanese, English, French and Italian.

After his Election, Father Nicolas is Greeted by Members of the Congregation

Reactions from American Jesuits at the Congregation
GC35 Updates from Rome
35th General Congregation Elects Adolfo Nicolás, SJ
posted by: on Saturday, January 19, 2008
Choice of Superior General Seen as a “Bridge to All Parts of the World”

WASHINGTON, January 19, 2008 – After four days of prayer and personal conversation known as murmurationes, the 217 Jesuit electors gathered in Rome from around the world have chosen Adolfo Nicolás, SJ as the 30th Superior General of the Society of Jesus. He was the President of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania and the former Provincial of Japan. He is now Father General to nearly 20,000 Jesuits worldwide, including 2,900 in the United States, and the 29th successor to St. Ignatius Loyola who founded the Jesuits in 1540.

Jesuit Conference of the United States President Father Thomas Smolich, SJ, who served on the Coetus Praevius (a planning committee for GC 35) with Father Nicolás, said, “The electors chose the man God had in mind.” Smolich added, “Our new Father General is profoundly spiritual; when you talk to him there is a depth that is striking.”

In an age where diverse cultures, religions and ways of life interact on an unprecedented scale, Father Nicolás is widely viewed as among the leading Jesuit experts on inter-religious dialogue. “His history as a scholar and theology professor, educated in both Tokyo and Rome, and his multiple language skills of east and west were also important to this international body of educators,” said Father Fred Kammer, SJ, provincial of New Orleans and one of the electors. “His experiences of the dynamic emerging Church in such countries as India, Japan, China, Korea, and the Philippines and his vision for spreading the Gospel appealed to many – reminding them of the great missionary St. Francis Xavier,” according to Kammer.

New York Provincial Father Jeff Chojnacki, SJ added, “his election is a bridge to all parts of the world.” It is a bridge expected to reach across not only geographic divisions. Father Shogo Sumita, SJ, current provincial of Japan, recalled how Father Nicolás moved from the provincial residence to one of poorest neighborhoods. “He has a deep grace of Ignatian spirituality and a creative imagination. After serving as provincial, he decided to live and work with the poor,” said Father Sumita.

Father Nicolás was born in Spain, earned a degree in systematic theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, taught at the Sophia University in Tokyo, directed the East Asia Pastoral Institute in the Philippines, served as presiding secretary of the 34th General Congregation in 1995, and speaks five languages. His visits to the United States have included stops at the Arrupe Experience, an annual preparation program for American Jesuits nearing ordination.

The Provincial of Maryland Father Tim Brown, SJ sees the election of a man with this breadth to be a “sign of unity and peace.” New England Provincial Father Tom Regan adds, “We are delighted that such a holy man, one who has such a vision of the world, has been selected to lead us.”

“And at 71 years old,” says Father Smolich, “Nicolás walks faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

At Lunch following the Election, Father Kolvenback Defers to Father Nicolas

Lastly, a reaction from Sophia University, where Fr. Nicolas taught
Fr. Nicolas is a cheerful and optimistic person, not to mention well-versed in theology and spirituality. He first came to Japan in 1961 and has spent most of his time since then in Japan and the Philippines. He is fluent in Spanish, English, Japanese, and several other European languages. As a professor of theology, he is quite familiar with the current religious crises confronting the Church and the Society, and as a former Provincial of Jesuits in Japan, he has the experience of facing major challenges. Fr. Nicolas has shown special interest in helping the poor, immigrants, and refugees, and has personally spent three years, after completing his term as the Provincial, working for immigrant laborers in Japan. At least in Japan, most Bishops know him well as he was a professor of theology, teaching both at Sophia University and at the Tokyo diocesan seminary, and has served as a theological consultant to several of them. Given his ever-smiling personality, he has always been popular with young Jesuits, and most seniors too admire him for his intellect and common sense.